NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Maybe you've seen them while watching and waiting in traffic.
A billboard in Oklahoma proclaims, "Noah knew. We can know." Another in Nashville says, "The wise men knew, we can know." A billboard in another country, Tanzania, reveals a little more information, "The rapture -- May 21, 2011. The end of the world Oct 21, 2011."
Not limited to billboards and bus benches, the message has gone mobile. "Noah knew" panel trucks are navigating the highways and byways of Minneapolis and New York. There's even a mobile messenger in Ohio driving around with the vanity license plate 5212011.
The billboard blitz is courtesy of Harold Camping's Family Radio ministry based in Oakland, Calif. According to Camping and his "ambassadors," the rapture will occur on May 21, 2011 and God will destroy the world 153 days later on October 21.
The fact that Camping, according to a CNN investigation, previously predicted the end to occur on Sept. 6, 1994 hasn't seemed to deter the prophetic fervor surrounding his latest end time recalibration.
Should we join the movement? Probably not. Biblical teaching can be an inconvenient truth to those who would set a month, day and year to Christ's return.
Jesus left no doubt about the futility of playing the dating game when he told his disciples three times in Matthew 24 not to go there:
-- "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Matthew 24:36).
-- "Therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:42).
-- "The Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him" (Matthew 24:44b).
Moses knew a thing or two about how God went about revealing things to men. After a lifetime of walking with the Father he told Israel, "the hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever" (Deuteronomy 29:29a).
There are some things that are hidden to all but God. The date of Christ's return is one of them. But rest assured, when He does decide to send the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, His timing will be perfect. God is never late. As Samuel Logan Brengle once said, "sometimes after supper He may allow you to go to bed not knowing where the breakfast is to come from, but it will come at breakfast time."
Somewhat lost in the hoopla over doomsday dates is Family Radio's more sinister teaching that Christians should not be part of a local church. Yes, you read right. Family Radio is not local church friendly.
A Family Radio tract titled No Man Knows the Day or Hour states that on May 21, 1988 the "church age" ended and the 23 year Great Tribulation began. Since that day "Satan has been employed by God to officially rule all of the churches." As a result local congregations are no longer a legitimate vehicle of end time evangelization, the ministry believes. That task has been bestowed upon individuals -- presumably those who are privy to Camping's special revelations.
The tract further states, "The Holy Spirit has abandoned all churches (and) those still following any church on May 21, 2011 are not saved"
This is serious. You can say what you want about me, but when you malign my wife you awaken all the wrath a 5-foot-7, 150-pounder can muster. The Church is Christ's bride. For Her He died, continually intercedes and will soon return.
Putting a date to the end can be dismissed as buffoonery. Ascribing leadership of the Church to the malignant one borders on blasphemy.
If there's an upside to such an outrageous claim, it's that it gives us an opportunity to revisit what the Bible says about the church. Let's review.
Christ has purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20.28) and made it holy through the Word (Ephesians 5:26). He is actively building it to be stronger than hell itself (Matthew 16.18) and without spot or wrinkle, holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27). It is His very body (Colossians 1:24). He lovingly cares and provides for it (Ephesians 5:29) and actively monitors its spiritual health (Revelation 2:1-3.22). As its Head, Christ exercises His authority to work its salvation (Ephesians 5:23).
The Church is God's household (1 Timothy 3:15) and the vehicle by which His multi-faceted wisdom is proclaimed to all creation visible and invisible (Ephesians 3.10). It belongs to God (1 Corinthians 1:2). He administers it (1 Corinthians 12:28) and has established it as arbiter of His judgment (Matthew 18:17-18) and pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
The Church is the recipient of the Father's, the Son's and the Spirit's active, coordinated and all sufficient grace (Acts 20:28) and is the conduit of grace to the needy (1 Timothy 5.16).
The two errors highlighted here -- dating the end of the world and maligning Christ's bride -- on the face of it might seem totally unrelated, but they're really not. The spirit of error is voracious and rarely content to possess just one deception.
Will Jesus return on May 21? He might. Today is a real possibility as well -- tomorrow, too. The real question is what will He find us doing when that day comes? What type of people will He deem us to be? Will He find us living by faith?
Watch and wait, for you don't know the hour.
I like the way that sounds. Somebody ought to put that on a billboard.
Ralph Tone is a church growth consultant with LifeWay Español of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.